Saturday, 10 September 2016

NATIONAL THEATRE PLUS ONE GATE

There is no question that I should let this lie, and at the very least I've said most of what I need to say on the subject in an article I wrote for The Stage a while back, and the fact I haven't pitched this to anyone is a sign of how absolutely niche it is. But. I had mildly complicated feelings when some of the cool theatre twitter people who smoke at the back of the Twitter bus were bemoaning the National Theatre's capitulation in the matter of +1s after kind of banning them from their bigger theatres. Actually they weren't even that complicated, they essentially boiled down to WHY ARE THEY SAYING I'M A BAD PERSON I'M NOT A BAD PERSON AM I?

I mean firstly, I do think it's important to remember how shitly the NT went about introducing this policy – if they'd just written to everyone saying 'it's 2016 and there are changes being made in the interests of diversifying press night attendance' it would have been really hard to have any comeback, but instead they made a microscopic, unflagged up tweak to the small print of The Threepenny Opera press invite and confused a lot of people (is it really over-entitlement to think it's a bit rude to take away something nice you've offered for decades and not think to mention it? is it smart PR to totally cede the initiative to a bunch of perplexed oddballs by not explaining yourself?). I do think that rather than being the undoubtedly good policy it potentially sounds like on paper, it was a pretty woolly and arbitrary thing introduced by a new head of press who wanted to be Seen To Be Doing Stuff, and the confusing way it was introduced was indicative of an idea that didn't really come with a plan attached (the best answer they gave as to who they were planning to invite instead was 'people like BuzzFeed', which is fascinating, because while this is undoubtedly smart in future terms, it involves not accommodating more requests or engaging with diverse/minority voices, but persuading people who don't cover theatre that they should cover theatre).

Secondly I do take exception to any notion that the Theatre Critics' Circle aggressively forced some sort of climbdown. I mean, let me tell you one thing about the Theatre Critics' Circle: as far as I've ever been able to tell, it doesn't actually do anything apart from host a pretty good awards ceremony at the start of the year. An email was sent around informing people +1s had been scrapped after the NT failed to tell us, and we were asked what we thought about it (my reply in full: 'It's just a bit rude not telling us, you know, I don't automatically think I "deserve" a +1 but it's a nice perk and having it taken away from you without even thinking to mention it when it's been on offer since time immemorial is just a bit thoughtless from an organisation that most of us enjoy a good relationship with'). Then the NT held off on implementing it until the end of the summer as a sort of 'sorry guyz' thing, but as far as I can tell everybody was expecting it to be implemented in October and it had ceased to be much of a talking point. Clearly TCC head Mark Shenton was negotiating during this time and clearly he was 'successful', but nothing of whatever was going on was ever communicated to us and I can't imagine he possibly threatened them because what the fuck would you threaten the NT with? As far as I know he broke out his standard 'paid theatre critics are a dying breed, gissa break' thing and it was accepted and the NT said they're still going to manage to implement whatever they were going to implement anyway.

Should I feel guilty/unethical about taking a guest? I suppose ultimately this is the thing that got to me in terms of writing this lady-doth-protest-style post. There seemed to be some disagreement as to whether a +1 should ever be issued on the discussion, with some suggestion that paid critics shouldn't get one but unpaid should (which I could pick a million holes in but as I can't see the NT ever attempting this then I can't be arsed) and this absolute doozy

Ie 'use your +1 to make the world better, not to bring your mates'. Is it bad to think that's silly? It's not been offered to you as a sphinx-like moral conundrum or because in a fit of genuine insanity theatres have outsourced their outreach schemes to critics. It's been offered as A Nice Thing and perhaps even because of tradition, but surely not as some sort of Big Deal. There are major London theatres – notably the Donmar Warehouse and the Almeida – that never ever ever ever offer +1s to anyone, and clearly it has had no impact. So when I'm offered a seat for a 900-seat theatre (Lyttelton) or 1,200-seat theatre (Olivier) I just think it's fairly reasonable to think they're offering it because they can spare it, not in a desperate attempt to win my love.

Am I stopping a black teenager going each time I take a +1? It's an obviously very weird question: you could probably argue a yes and a no. Are my friends intrinsically undeserving? Maaaaaaybe? I dunno, I overwhelmingly go with one of four people: none of them are rich, three of them probably earn a bit more than the national average, one earns a lot less and is also black – should that matter? And finally there's the question of what I get out of it: I've long since lost the need to have somebody with me when I'm watching art, but essentially I have maintained close relationships with four of my best friends because I can take +1s to the theatre in a way I would have found very difficult otherwise because I have no evening social life outside of the professional because I have a baby.

None of this is 'important', and probably it's all just elaborate spin for my own awfulness, but at the moment I feel so weary about traducement of character being deployed as response to disagreement. Bleh.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

THE LONDON MAYORAL ELECTION

There is nothing more irritating than people posting exhortations to 'go out and vote!!!' to a likely readership who were almost certainly a) going to vote already b) the same way as you c) or don't live in London and probably aren't very excited about their imminent council election.

So I just want you to know I acknowledge my own impotence, vote or don't vote how you want, whatever, I'm just blogging to have a public grumble in the hope it gets validated by double digit age views.

But yeah: this whole London mayoral contest has just been so DEPRESSING.

In a way the worst thing about Zac Goldsmith's campaign isn't the awful racism or the fall from grace of a man who might reasonably have been thought to have been a unifier between liberal and wealthy London - though that's a pretty major part of it - but that he doesn't seem to even want the fucking job (other than to beat Sadiq Khan).

Khan's not had nearly the scrutiny for his policies he should have done thanks to an opposition that basically resorted to shouting LOL MUSLIM after about a week, but at least he wants it and will give it his best shot, no matter how disastrous that will prove to be.

But aside from the fact a Zac win will inevitably usher in the most depressing electoral campaign in history in 2020, I just find it hard to imagine that four years of him will mean anything other than four more years of hands off, photo opp mayoralty a la BoJo. Maybe London's many, many problems are in fact insurmountable, but we're not going to find out this way.

So the moral is - racism? Hey, who isn't a bit racist these days, we all read the odd Vice article, right? Goldsmith shouldn't be mayor not because he's a massive racist, but because he'd be a shit mayor. And he's a massive racist.

I shall be voting for Mr Khan, probably Greens second pref because fuck it, who else is there these days and somebody needs to vote Green in Bromley eh.

Monday, 2 May 2016

BECOMING A MASSIVELY SUCCESSFUL FREELANCER

Has it really been four months since I last wrote a blog?

Well, define 'wrote a blog' – in the time since I last PUBLISHED a blog I started another one about my incomprehension of the widely-parroted but never substantiated reportage that Jay-Z sent Beyonce 10,000 roses prior to her performance at this year's Superbowl (seriously: multiple news outlets just reported it straight as if it was definitely true JUST THINK OF THE LOGISTICS OF 10,000 ACTUAL ROSES) but sort of shelved it because too much time had passed since the event (and obviously it's desperately important to remain current here). And I wrote some demented number of words on my trip to Sierra Leone, but I dunno, it was basically a big diary entry, I'm not sure there was anything particularly #shareable about it (blogs I've started but not finished about foreign places I've been to are definitely the most common blogs I've started but not finished).

Anyway, this legend

started nursery last week and as a result I now find myself cash poor but relatively time rich (because I'm not fannying about in the flat in the mornings), so I have decided that in an effort to possibly help us go on a holiday ever again or something I'm going to try and buff up my freelance career a bit.

It's fair to say that my freelance career to date unquestionably peaked when I was basically doing a full-time job, but freelance, at Time Out. If you take that out of the equation, a steady but unchanging weekly rate for running the Drowned in Sound album reviews has pretty much been the backbone of my freelance work and though it's not a huge amount it's made a big difference, the difference between having 'a bit' of disposable income and 'no' disposable income. For a good few years I supplemented this further with book reviews for my old employer Metro, but regime change and modifications to the arts section there mean I've not done anything further for them in at least a year (and Janek's arrival meant I didn't ever bother to chase up).

There are obviously major but not insurmountable restrictions on what I can do re: theatre for publications that aren't Time Out, but they're not too egregious – I can't do theatre reviews and I can't write an article that Time Out would have wanted, but theatre being modesty hifalutin then there's actually quite a lot of comment and more in depth feature-y stuff that Time Out would never run.

I don't think I've attempted to pitch anything to anyone not Time Out in at least five years, but I have been approached to do various things, notably an article for an in flight magazine (which I wrote), The Stage very kindly payed me to run an edit of a blog I'd written, and The Guardian once randomly phoned me asking if I could do a reviews round-up on The Book of Mormon (I couldn't, I was literally phoned as I was about to get on the Eurostar and would have no internet until after the deadline).

So that's better than nothing and if we accept my writing is at least serviceable my sole and definitely only problem in terms of not being a Caitlin Moran/Boris Johnson-level success is that I find the idea of 'putting myself out there' excruciating on almost every level, like I dunno, there is literally nothing more pitiful than freelance rejection (probably something that comes from watching the Dutch wine scene in Nathan Barley at a formative age).

Anyway, what I've decided to do is blog about my attempt to stoke my freelance career, because somehow that's fine, like I am doing a performance art or simply applying an ironic filter to the experience so I can turn failure into a big joke or something.

Probably this will be by only post on the subject, ever, but let me tell you as if right now I INTEND to do it, which is basically the same thing.

Monday, 11 January 2016

DAVID FUCKING BOWIE

I’m not especially proud of it, but I actually cried quite a bit – by my own, rugged standards at least – at the news of David Bowie’s passing. I keep tearing up at my desk, worried that my monstrous bastard workmates will sense my weakness. Is that weird? I have never cried at the death of somebody I didn't know before and I doubt I ever will again. I am shocked by how sad I feel, even if at the same time a part of me certainly understands that – genius as he was – Bowie has absolutely 100% played us with his death.

He held on way beyond what was necessary to both open a musical (Lazarus) and put out an album (Blackstar) in the last month of his life, dramatically dying two days after the latter was symbolically released on his sixth-ninth birthday. Fuck knows what his last days and hours were like, or when the promo videos for the Blackstar singles were actually shot. I hope we never know: in the public eye Bowie never got old or weak or frail, never became a ‘cancer victim’ – he was in his pomp, riding high, then strode offstage imperiously.

Nonetheless, I do feel sad (in fact, much as I'm second guessing what happened, then dying in such a way is an incredibly brave, artistically committed thing to so probably accounts for part of why I am sad).

A lot of people are talking about his blah blah ‘70s and my natural instinct would be to mount some pugnacious defense of his ‘90s work, but I’ve already done that at least a billion times and it would probably be beside the point here a little. There is no point in blathering on in great detail about Bowie’s brilliance, because there is almost nothing left to say. But I suppose it is the loss of his brilliance that is making me feel sad. Yes, most of his greatest work was done in a ten-year-period between 1971 and 1980, but he carried on and he rarely stopped feeling vital, both in terms of his own questing spirit as an artist and the fact that almost none of his good music has dated.

I think I feel sad because he was brilliant and he shaped us and he overawed us and he defined us and now he has left us all alone.

NB here is a playlist I made a few years ago of some of Bowie’s ‘post megastardom’ music